Contemporary American Theater Festival

July 02, 1998

photos: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

Contemporary American Theater FestivalBy Kate Coleman / Staff Writer

Ed Herendeen has an easygoing and down-to-earth way of talking about the lofty mission of the Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

"We are creating the future of the American Theater," he says simply. CATF has found a niche.

--cont from lifestyle--

Of five professional companies formed in the U.S. in 1991 - a difficult time for the arts because of funding cuts - CATF is the only survivor, according to Herendeen.

Now in its eighth season, with a growing budget, audience, impressive list of supporters and nationally respected talent, CATF has gained a foothold.


"If theater is to persist, endure, there have to be new plays," he says.

Producing new plays is frightening because there's no safety net of tradition. But there's nothing more exciting for a director than to give birth to a new play and to see it thrive, Herendeen says. He is directing three of this season's plays.

Two of the four 1998 plays will open Friday, July 10.

Carry the Tiger to the Mountain

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> "Interesting Times," by Preston Foerder, a contemporary tragi-comedy, is a fully produced puppet play, performed without words to original music.

"We consider contemporary puppetry to be serious theater," Herendeen says.

These works are the first commissioned by CATF, an "enormous risk," according to Herendeen.

"You're buying air," he says.

"Carry the Tiger to the Mountain," the story of what Herendeen calls the "quintessential Asian-American hate crime," was commissioned largely in response to President Clinton's call for a national dialogue on race.

"We have no solutions or answers. We just want to weigh in on the dialogue," Herendeen says.

To that end, there will be post-show discussions of "Carry the Tiger to the Mountain" Thursday, July 16, and Friday, July 24.

Herendeen has been working with representatives of the President's Initiative on Race. West Virginia Governor Cecil Underwood and CATF will convene a Town Hall Meeting on the Performing Arts and Race, a public discussion about the role the arts must play in advancing the national dialogue on race, Sunday, July 19, at 4:30 p.m. following a 2 p.m. performance in Frank Center Theater. Playwright Lee will be there.

The other 1998 plays, "Gun Shy," a comedy by Richard Dresser about a "divorce on the rocks," and Tom Strelich's "BAFO (Best and Final Offer)," a scathing, jet-black comedy set in the declining defense industry, also are challenging. There's no fluff on CATF's menu.

Herendeen believes that audiences want to be engaged - not just entertained. There's enough escape in popular entertainment, he says.

He believes that the theater should be a "carnival of provocation, telling the audience something it didn't already know or making something it already knows new."

He sees the festival as national in focus.

"We dream really big dreams," Herendeen says.

CATF schedule

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